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The #1 Spice That Will Make Any Recipe Better

It’s the underrated MVP on your spice rack!
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If you had to write an ode to any spice or seasoning in your pantry, which one would you choose? Would it be a poem to your favorite taco seasoning blend? A love sonnet to the everything bagel seasoning? After cooking many recipes—and developing quite a few myself—there is one spice that I absolutely adore, and that's paprika. I love this spice so much that I'm convinced it is the best spice for any recipe.

Let me tell you why. And if you're curious about more cooking tips, check out our list of 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time.

What is paprika?

If you're not familiar, paprika is a spice made of different dried fruits and peppers that come from the plant Capsicum annum. The types of peppers that come from the Capsicum annum are chili peppers, capsicums, bell peppers, cayenne peppers, jalapenos, and many more. While it sounds like the paprika should be spicy, it's actually surprisingly sweet—given that there are numerous sweeter varieties of the plant that are used in paprika.

Paprika is a spice that originates back generations—all the way back to the Iberian Peninsula. It soon reached Central America and became popular in Spain and Portugal in the 16th century. Because paprika has a bright red color, the color is used for all kinds of dishes.

What are the different kinds of paprika?

While paprika can be found as its own entity, there are also numerous versions of the spice. You can actually find versions of hot paprika and sweet paprika and is used to flavor all kinds of dishes—like a sweet or spicy curry. Sweet paprikas are made when the pepper's inner seed and veins are removed before the pepper is ground, which is where the spiciness naturally comes from a pepper.

There are also different paprika blends based on different locations. The Spice House sells a Hungarian Paprika (which features the Hungarian paprika peppers) as well as the Spanish Paprika (which features their paprika peppers called the pimentón, a smaller bell-shaped pepper). You can even get both of those spices in different flavor profiles, like the Hungarian Sweet Paprika or the Spanish Smoked Hot Paprika.

What are some ways to cook with paprika?

Here's a great way to think about it: Black pepper, or even fresh ground peppercorns, give your dish that extra dash of taste—and sometimes even extra spice—to really bring out the flavor profile of the dish. So why wouldn't a little kick of spicy or sweet from a dash of paprika do the same thing?

While it may sound a little unconventional, there are actually a lot of great recipes you can cook that use paprika in it. It's the main spice used in this roasted chicken, a prominent flavor in this Spanish garlic shrimp, and even the star spice on top of these cheese fries. Plus, you can't go wrong with topping your deviled eggs with a dash.

Paprika can also work as the key player in a meat dry rub, like this blackening spice. It can give your potato salad a little pizzaz, elevates the flavor of a lot of your slow cooker chicken meals, and turns your baked crispy chicken from blah to yum. It can flavor your hummus, give extra flavor to your favorite pizza, and yes, can even work well sprinkled on a decadent chocolate dessert.

Shall I keep going? The list truly can go on-and-on. It's by far the best spice for any recipe and the one item in your kitchen that you need to start adding to your dishes ASAP.

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Kiersten Hickman
Kiersten Hickman is a freelance health and nutrition journalist. Read more about Kiersten
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